Fire still burns on USS Bonhomme Richard, cause unknown

The Navy reportedly intends to repair the 23-year-old ship

U.S. Navy officials on Monday were working to determine what caused a massive fire on the USS Bonhomme Richard, an amphibious assault ship, that resulted in 17 injured sailors and four civilians.

Much of the blaze, which is still burning as of Monday morning, is still unknown, including the extent of the damages to the ship, which is docked at the San Diego Naval Base. The San Diego Union-Tribune reported that a commander of the Expeditionary Strike Group 3 said the early theory is that the fire started in a lower cargo hold.

The paper, citing an email from the Navy, reported that 13 sailors were in stable condition. Two federal firefighters were also hospitalized, according to the report.

The blaze was reported on the ship shortly before 9 a.m., said Krishna Jackson, the base's public information officer. Later Sunday, the Navy said two guided-missile destroyers were moved away from the Bonhomme Richard after it caught fire. One of the warships forced to switch berths was the USS Fitzgerald, which had just returned to the fleet following a collision at sea off the coast of Japan three years ago that killed seven sailors.

Because of its age (23), a fire could be particularly destructive, especially if it reached the engine room and other tight spaces with machinery, said Lawrence B. Brennan, a professor of admiralty and international maritime law at Fordham University in New York.

“The heat of a fire of this nature can warp the steel, and that can be a major problem for any ship,” said Brennan. “On an older ship, it’s even more of a problem.”

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The paper, citing a Navy official, said the ship will be repaired.

Fox News' Bradford Betz and the Associated Press contributed tom this report